An example of why Public-Private Partnerships should be part of a holistic CSR strategy
"When spiders' webs unite, they can tie up a lion" goes an Ethiopian proverb. So what might it take to stop a lowly mosquito? Much, much more.
April 25th is World Malaria Day. It's a devastating disease that kills more than 1 million people per year, most of them children under the age of five. A child dies every 30 seconds from malaria. By the time you finish reading this post, 6 children will have succumbed to the disease and today 2880 children will die from it, the equivalent of more than 100 kindergarten classes. The consistent use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), which kill mosquitoes on contact, can reduce those deaths by 20-35%.
Unfortunately, many African children don't sleep under bednets. While the globally agreed target is 80% net use for children under 5, in most countries that number is still far below 50%. Conventional ITNs require re-treatment every few months, a cost which is too heavy a burden for many families. Availability of the nets and local customs can further reduce usage. One solution to help increase use is making low-cost long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLITNs), which are effective for up to five years, readily available. Thanks to a unique partnership, the innovative technology used to create LLITNs is helping to prevent the disease and create local jobs in Africa.
After the Abuja Summit, a meeting of African leaders in 2000 where bed nets were acknowledged as critical in the fight against malaria, a WHO scientist, Pierre Guillet, and Steven Phillips, Medical Director for Global Issues and Projects at Exxon Mobil, developed the idea for a global partnership to create African-made bednets impregnated with insecticide. A Japanese company, Sumitomo, had invented technology called Olyset which directly incorporated the insecticide Permethrin into the fibers of the bednet. Guillet's idea was for Exxon to provide the resin, Sumitomo to provide the technology and an African manufacturer to produce the nets. Enter Acumen Fund to provide the means to make it happen.
In 2002, Acumen Fund enlisted A to Z Textile Mills in Arusha, Tanzania, for its ability to locally manufacture the nets. A to Z had been in operation for more than 25 years and already employed more than 1000 people. Acumen loaned the company US$325,000 to buy the machinery and chemicals to begin making LLITNs in Tanzania.
To create the nets, polyethylene resin pellets containing the insecticide are shipped to the company from Japan and are melted into long strings which are then formed into nets. The nets are packaged and shipped using company-owned trucks to countries in East and Central Africa. Until A to Z began producing the nets, LLITNs were only manufactured in East Asia. By 2010, A to Z was producing 30 million nets per year. UNICEF helps to ensure they get into the hands of those who need them.
A to Z now employs 7,000 people most of whom are women, is one of the largest employers in Tanzania, and is the largest manufacturer of LLITNs in Africa. Producing the nets in Africa increases their availability and helps to reduce the annual cost of malaria, estimated at $10 to $12 billion in lost GDP.
Malaria is a global issue too large for any one organization to tackle alone. Without partnerships like this one, the death toll and economic impact of the disease would be much higher. There are many other global issues that could benefit from similar partnerships where a holistic and collaborative approach brings together innovation, knowledge and funding from various stakeholders. I addressed the power of these transformational partnerships in a previous post but it bears repeating. To create positive, long-lasting change we need to work together.